Final: Arizona 31, Washington 23
The Arizona Cardinals improve to 5-6-1 after Patrick Peterson intercepted an errant Kirk Cousins pass late in the game, downing the Redskins. There was good quarterback play taking place in this game despite woeful performances by both injury-riddled offensive lines. Here’s how it all played out.
The Redskins defense was victimized by two players on defense: Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. These two players have carried the Cardinals’ offense all season long and certainly continued that trend on Sunday. Fitz now has 1,104 catches in his brilliant career and sits all alone behind Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez in third place on the all-time reception list. Fitzgerald hauled in ten balls for 78 yards and made a couple of key conversions, including one late in the game that allowed the Cards to march down the field and score the go-ahead touchdown. David Johnson was a man on fire yet again for Arizona as he recorded 100+ yards from scrimmage in his twelfth straight game. He ended the afternoon with 27 touches for 175 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving). He was nearly uncoverable out of the backfield and did have opportunities to make a couple more grabs if the ball was delivered accurately. This was a bit of a problem at times because the offensive line for Arizona continued to be an issue. The interior was getting shoved backwards and the Redskins were getting pressure even on three step drops. Luckily, Carson Palmer showed some of his best mechanics so far this season and was good with his feet, able to move out and make some decent throws. Other tosses were inaccurate because he was not able to escape the pressure. On the Cardinals’ final scoring drive of the game, Bruce Arians showed some guts by calling a run play on a fourth and one, inside of their own territory with less than four to play. The call payed off with a 17 yard rush by David Johnson. Later on, on a third down try, he let Carson Palmer take a shot for the end zone, and the veteran quarterback delivered the goods by dropping a perfect pass into the waiting arms of J.J. Nelson in the end zone for a 42 yard score. The Cardinals were playing to win the game, and they were able to do just that.
Conversely, the Washington offense held its own. They were in a tough spot versus the league’s top defense on the road, and they did not look atrocious despite missing their best offensive player in Jordan Reed. Kirk Cousins was great on the afternoon making quick reads and finding open men when he was afforded the time to pass. This was the key, though, because there were a lot of occasions where he could not stand comfortably in the pocket and pick out his best option. His best throw of the game came right at the beginning of the third quarter where he hooked up with DeSean Jackson on a 59 yard bomb. This lead to a Rob Kelley score later on. The 59 yarder was one of the rare times that Cousins had all day to throw. The Redskins suffered injuries to their center John Sullivan and their right guard Spencer Long. Arizona brought a ton of corner blitzes and spread the line out. This allowed some men to run free on the interior and take shots on Cousins. There was not much room for Washington to maneuver on the ground either as the Cardinals blitzed those looks as well. It came down to the Redskins’ players beating their man coverage. They did not do so on many occasions as the ball rarely went in the direction of Patrick Peterson who was all over DeSean Jackson for a majority of the game. Jameson Crowder did not have a reception until the third quarter of play and without Jordan Reed to make plays in the middle of the field, Kirk Cousins was heavily reliant on quick hitches to the outside, which is not necessarily Washington’s game.
This has already been touched upon quite a bit, but the Arizona defense was a huge reason why the team was able to keep their playoff hopes alive. They were tremendous in man coverage when Kirk Cousins did have time to throw the ball and they were blitzing very frequently. Deone Bucannon and Markus Golden shined as each made plays at the line of scrimmage all game long. Golden recovered a fumble and ran it back deep inside of the Redskins’ territory late in the game that set up one go-ahead score. Bucannon was excellent help in stuffing the run game and made some great open field tackles. Tyvon Branch was a bit of a liability in coverage, and he was the guy who got beat deep by DeSean Jackson. Otherwise, the secondary for Arizona was strong even without Tyrann Matheiu to help them out. The Cardinals were just as aggressive without him and really got after a hobbled Washington offensive line.
The Redskins on defense found out what a lot of teams have already seen this season: the Arizona offense is run through the production of two guys, David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald had a lot of catches, but nothing terribly explosive. The true challenge was with Johnson out of the backfield, something the Redskins have shown to struggle doing all season and that is covering running backs. Their interior line was good and they held up well against the run. Johnson himself did break some tackles and got on to the second level, but for the second straight week the Redskins’ held a potential #1 running back in the league to less than 100 yards rushing, which is not bad. Washington did a great job at limiting explosive plays from the Cards until late in the game when J.J. Nelson grabbed his long touchdown. Josh Norman was more of an impact player around the line of scrimmage as he was brought on CAT blitzes quite a few times and had a nose for stuffing the ball carriers. He had a bad holding penalty later in the game that did extend an Arizona drive, however, and was not overly dominant in covering Larry Fitzgerald. Bashaud Breeland actually had one of his better games in coverage for most of the game having primary assignments with Michael Floyd throughout. He was beat on a touchdown pass, but Larry Fitzgerald drew him away from his primary receiver, so it is hard to blame him for that.
In the end, this turned out to be a signature win for the Cardinals. They got back to their roots and were aggressive on both sides of the ball. This was important for them since they are a squad whose identity is built on taking risks and this “W” is something that they can look back on for the rest of the year. With this victory, they now jump above the Eagles and the Saints in the NFC Wild Card standings and now have a head to head win over the Redskins. They will be heading on the road to the Dolphins next week trying to continue a late season renaissance. The Redskins have a chance to bounce back with a struggling Eagle team next on their schedule. That game will be on the road.
- Arizona’s defense clamped down in the waning moments of the game when Patrick Peterson intercepted Kirk Cousins’ pass late with :41 to go, sealing a win for the Cardinals and keeping their season alive.
- David Johnson had his twelfth straight game with over 100 yards from scrimmage while Larry Fitzgerald moved into third place all time with 1,104 receptions. Arizona’s offense continues to run through these two players almost exclusively.
- Carson Palmer had his best game since Week 2 versus Tampa Bay, throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He did all of this despite another poor performance from his offensive line and showed his best mobility of the season.
- Washington’s offensive line suffered a couple of big injuries to the center and guard position and the Cardinals exploited that with blitzes. Kirk Cousins was under pressure all game and was off the mark with a lot of his throws.
- Until J.J. Nelson’s 42 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Washington secondary did hold up well due to the amount of pressure they were able to get on Carson Palmer. The Redskin “D” did not hold when it counted most as they gave up that bomb late in the fourth quarter and allowed a fourth down conversion earlier on the drive.
- The middle of the field was not as prosperous for the Redskins without Jordan Reed in the game. Outside throws were contested by the Arizona corners and Kirk Cousins did not have much of a running game to work with. The Washington offense was handicapped and exposed by a good defense.